On March 21, Leah and Doug Levine of Wayland were hoping to learn their 5-year-old daughter, Ellie, had been accepted into a kindergarten Spanish immersion program.
Instead of a meeting with Ellie’s new principal, however, blood work at her annual wellness check-up led to an introduction with a pediatric oncologist.
Ellie is now five months into a two-year treatment plan for acute lymphoblastic leukemia at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Jimmy Fund Clinic at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Although her prognosis is positive, she has already endured agonizing complications with more expected on the long road ahead.
“It’s a form of torture when you see your kid in so much pain,” said Doug Levine, vice chair of the Wayland Board of Selectmen. It is a blessing, he notes, that their 3-year-old daughter Annie is too young to understand the gravity of her sister’s illness.
“The treatment is a marathon,” he added, “but there have definitely been silver linings along the way.”
The first began unfolding on March 25, when the couple was advised to create a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign in anticipation of out-of-pocket expenses not covered by health insurance through their jobs. (Doug is special counsel for the Massachusetts State Police, while Leah is an educational consultant at Research for Better Teaching in Acton.) To date, 532 individuals from around the world have donated $81,981 — far exceeding the family’s $35,000 goal.
To ease the burden of day-to-day tasks, Leah Levine’s sister, Rachel Conn, and close friends Allie Wilkinson, Heidi Seaborg, and Sara Laroche formed the Ellie Levine Love Circle community at Lotsa Helping Hands. Its 234 members have used the online care calendar to record get-well messages for Ellie, deliver meals, gift cards, and care packages, purchase Amazon wish items, coordinate play dates for Annie, and even complete yard work during one particularly long stretch of hospitalization.
Doug Alongi, a Wayland father who didn’t know the Levines when he shared their GoFundMe link on Facebook, reached out to Doug Levine for advice when one of his own family members was diagnosed with cancer in June. The week after the men met, Alongi asked permission to coordinate a special day for Ellie and Annie.
“At first, we thought he meant taking them out for ice cream with his kids,” said Leah, a volunteer board member and former president of the Wayland Children and Parent Association, “but it’s so much more.”
On Sunday, Sept. 15, a carnival for Wayland families in honor of Ellie and Annie will take place from noon to 4 p.m. at Wayland Middle School, 201 Main St. The event will include music, face-painting, food trucks, ice cream, a bounce house, and kids’ activities. Admission is free, but attendees will have the opportunity to donate to the Jimmy Fund, which will have a booth onsite.
Most significantly, there will be a birthday cake for Ellie and Annie and a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Their joint party had been scheduled on March 23, the day Ellie began chemotherapy, and multiple attempts to reschedule it were unsuccessful due to her treatments.
Alongi, who said he was inspired to organize the carnival simply because “I don’t do sick kids well,” credits the support of Blair Ramsey, Sarah Woodside, Amanda Glynn, Jenifer Apazidis, Ally Cohen, Sheetal Acharya, Damian Zedower, Lisa Annunciata, the town’s police, fire, and recreation departments, and numerous local businesses with turning his “wild idea” into reality.
For their part, the Levines are looking forward to the carnival with a mix of emotion and excitement for supporters to see the impact of their good deeds.
“I’m happy that everyone will get to see Ellie in her element, just being an active kid,” Doug Levine said. “It’s overwhelming in an extraordinary way at times to have so many people rally behind us. She is going to be thrilled.”
Leah Levine said she “gets chills” every time she considers the tremendous love and support directed toward her family by community members — some of whom her family doesn’t even know.
“We’re just blown away,” she said. “The best thanks we can offer is all the fun that Ellie is going to have that day. I can’t even imagine how awesome it’s going to be.”
Cindy Cantrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.